Every country should do its best to preserve its national treasures; such is not the case of Guyana since independence in 1966. A significant number of items from the collection at Guyana’s national archive has gone missing since 1966. Moreover, valuable materials that should be archived are still all over the country. There is a lack of a proper inventory of what exists in various parts of Guyana. They are yet to be sent to a central location such as the National Archives of Guyana, and this is due to many factors – lack of knowledge of what exists, lack of capital, political disinterest, theft, natural phenomena, lack of interest and a shortage of trained staff.
A new archive has been built in Georgetown but according to experts in the field such as Prof Noel Menezes it lacks international specifications. Questions about safety – fire and weather in particular have been questioned.
The Netherlands sought the permission of the Government of Guyana according to former Minister of Culture Gail Teixeira to preserve and digitize about 50% of the archives. These documents are in Dutch, but the Government of Guyana refused to send them to Holland for preservation. Holland just wanted a copy and promised to return them to Guyana. The project couldn’t be undertaken in Guyana due to the lack of technology and reliable electricity. Ironically, it never made news in Guyana that the Netherlands in April 2010 returned a stolen or lost original piece of the Guyanese heritage: this was the Minutes of the Court of Policy of Demerary and Essequibo 1774-1776. The Minutes were lost between 1921 and 1980. It was spotted at an antique shop in Georgetown in 2006, according to a press release from the National Archive of the Netherlands. The item ended up in a Dutch bookstore and was spotted by an employee of the National Archive. “At the request of the Programme Director, Roelof Hol, De Slegte decided to donate the register to the National Archive of the Netherlands.
According to the Dutch press release Mr Roelof travelled to Guyana on April 15, 2010 and “handed over the material to the director of the Walter Rodney Archives (National Archives of Guyana, Georgetown), Mrs Nadia Gamel-Carter. Also during this visit Roelof handed over a series of digital copies of Dutch colonial maps of Guyana to the Minister of Culture of Guyana…“ The later part about the donation of maps to Guyana did make news in Guyana. I could be wrong about the stolen/missing item not making news in Guyana.
The Netherlands hopes that this visit to Guyana will usher in a new era of cooperation with the National Archive of Guyana. Let us hope that the Government of Guyana will see it fit to send these records to Holland. This action taken by Holland to return a piece of Guyanese heritage should silence the sceptics who are afraid to cooperate with Holland.
Furthermore, we should also cooperate with the United Kingdom and Suriname in this area. Maybe the UK can build Guyana an archive like Holland did for Suriname in 2010. A treasure of information on slavery in Guyana and the 1763 Berbice slave rebellion exists in Dutch in the archives of Holland and Suriname. And now that Suriname has a new archive that meets international standards, Holland has initiated the process of returning a large collection of materials that belong to Suriname.
According to the Dutch, “With all these improvements the colonial archives are safe to return to the place they were once created. In the coming seven years 800 meters of archives will return to Suriname. These are colonial archives dating from 1667 till 1975, the year of the independence of Suriname. Before sending, the archives are being treated and brought to a stable condition by conservation workers at the National Archive in the Netherlands. Next they are digitized. This way the records will also stay accessible for Dutch researchers and for everyone who is interested in the mutual history of Suriname and the Netherlands.” I am sure that there are large collections in the UK that belong to Guyana which England may not be willing to return because there is a lack of trust that they won’t be secure in Guyana.